I recently turned 60. To help celebrate the occasion, friends organized a surprise party. After the festivities, there came a time to reflect, and I came to an uncomfortable conclusion: I am closer to that period in life when my energy and powers will diminish and I will lose my independence. At age 60, the organs of the body gradually begin to fail and the first hints of age-related disease begin to appear.
I hardly notice my aging on a day-to-day basis. When I look in the mirror each morning, my face and white beard seem the same as the day before. But in photographs from the 1970s, my beard is completely black. On closer inspection, I notice other changes in my body: more aches and pains, less resilience, less vigor. And my memory may not be quite what it used to be. At the same time, despite the evidence, some part of me feels unchanged. In fact, I feel the same as when I was 6.
Some years ago I went to my 25th high school reunion. I had not seen most of my classmates since our graduation in 1959. A few were just as I remembered them, hardly changed at all. Others looked so aged that I could barely find points of coincidence with the pictures of them I had in my head. Why the difference? Why are some individuals so outwardly altered by time and others not? Or, in other words, why is there often a discrepancy between chronological age and biological age?
I believe the answer has to do with complex interactions of genetics and environment. I also believe, on the basis of evidence I have reviewed, we actually have control over some of those factors.
I do not subscribe to the view that aging suddenly overtakes us at some point in life, whether at 60 or some other milestone. I meet researchers, physicians and others who believe that we are born, grow rapidly to maturity, and then coast along on a more or less comfortable plateau until we begin to decline. They call the period of decline senescence and consider it distinct and apart from what came before.
I find it more useful to think of aging as a continuous and necessary process of change that begins at conception. Wherever you are on the continuum, it is important to learn how to live in appropriate ways in order to maximize health and happiness. That should be an essential goal for all of us. What is appropriate when you are in your 20s is likely not going to be appropriate in your 50s.
We can mask the outward signs of the process or try to keep up old routines in spite of it, but we cannot change the fact that we are all moving toward physical change. The best we can do--and it is a lot--is to accept the inevitability of aging and try to adapt to it, to be in the best health we can at any age. To my mind the denial of aging and the attempt to fight it are counterproductive, a failure to understand and accept an important aspect of our existence. Such attitudes are major obstacles to aging gracefully.
Which brings me to the subject of antiaging medicine.
THE ANTIAGING BUSINESS
Antiaging medicine is nothing new. What is remarkable, though, is its growth into an organized field, with journals, annual meetings and a concerted attempt by leaders to have it recognized as a legitimate specialty of orthodox medicine.